On May 31, 1953, twenty-one year old Sylvia Plath arrived in New York City to begin a one-month stint at “the intellectual fashion magazine” Mademoiselle, where she was a Guest Editor for its prestigious annual College Issue. Over the next twenty-six days, the bright, blonde New England college girl lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended Balanchine ballets, watched a game at Yankee Stadium, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She typed rejection letters to writers from The New Yorker and ate an entire bowl of caviar at an advertising luncheon. She stalked Dylan Thomas and fought off an aggressive diamond-wielding delegate from the United Nations. She took hot baths, had her hair done, and discovered her signature drink (vodka, no ice). Young, beautiful, and on the cusp of an advantageous career, she was supposed to be having the time of her life.
Drawing on previously unexamined sources and in-depth interviews, Elizabeth Winder’s Pain, Parties, Work—the three words Plath used to describe that time—recounts that crucial summer. Winder reveals how these twenty-six days indelibly altered how Plath saw herself, her mother, her friendships, and her romantic relationships, and shaped her emerging identity as a woman and as a writer. Attempting to undo the cliché of Plath as the demon-plagued artist, Winder traces the arc of Plath’s month at Mademoiselle, showing how Manhattan’s alien atmosphere unleashed an anxiety that would stay with her for the rest of her life.
Thoughtful and illuminating, Pain, Parties, Work offers new insight as it introduces us to Sylvia Plath, the girl, before she became one of the greatest and most influential poets of the twentieth century.